Mindless hate or mere idiocy: US immigration vs Edhi

Abdussattar Edhi helps the destitute, children, women, victims of natural disasters – and even the dead, by providing burials. In a country where need is high and government infrastructure for such work is desperately lacking, Edhi helps those whom no one helps. He takes nothing as a salary and lives very simply. He is an example where politicians provide nothing but food for cynicism.

And this is the man who was detained for 8 hours by US Immigration officials. They confiscated his green card and his passport.
They asked him why he dresses the way he does (no, he does not wear Western clothing, and yes, he wears a Pakistani outfit. Since when is that a crime?) They asked him why he doesn’t live in the US even though he has a green card (he is a social worker: he is needed in Pakistan. Would they prefer him to permanently vacation at Disneyland?)

This man is no politician. He saves lives. At this time of desperate need in Pakistan, he should be more mobile than before. This man deserves recognition and assistance. So why are US authorities hindering and humiliating him? Do they need to send more messages of mindless hate to the Muslim world? Do they need to provide more fodder for hate?

Lies, lies, all lies – prior to the invasion of Iraq

A study by a nonprofit reveals – surprise! – false statements made by the Bush administration prior to the invasion of Iraq.

Unfortunately, politicians lying is nothing new to any of us, though the scale of this is horrifying.

What is more shocking is the collusion of supposedly independent journalists – responsible for bringing us facts and truth:

“Some journalists — indeed, even some entire news organizations — have since acknowledged that their coverage during those prewar months was far too deferential and uncritical.”

One might add, cowardly and lacking in any ethical or principled stand whatsoever.

Check out the Center for Public Integrity on Orchestrated Deception on the Path to War.

Bumper-length ideas

This is a post from the old Koonj blog:

When we bought my Forester (here in Athens, GA), it had a bumper sticker that said: “ATHEISM IS ARROGANCE.”

I mean, you all know I’m not a fan of atheism. But I just wouldn’t want to be the one to say ATHEISM IS ARROGANCE IN ALL CASES.

I might say ATHEISM IS CONFUSION, or GOD KNOWS WHAT ATHEISM IS. Or maybe I THINK SOME ATHEISTS ARE UPSET WITH SORROW AND PAIN IN THE WORLD, or maybe ATHEISTS AREN’T NECESSARILY BAD PEOPLE, I JUST THINK THEY’RE WRONG.

Or maybe SOME ATHEISTS ARE ARROGANT; HELL, SOME BELIEVERS ARE PRETTY DARN ARROGANT TOO.

Or like, all of the above. That way I’d end up with a long bumper sticker that flaps in the wind.

Speaking of slogans, my favourites are Church marquees. This isn’t meant to be insulting, but “2 Planks 3 Nails 4 Given” is just a bit tacky. It’s a huge story, and the slogan is fairly reductive.

Last week–after a bout of hot weather – I saw a very traditional marquee that I wouldn’t see out in DC: “THINK IT’S HOT UP HERE? – GOD.” A marquee about Hellfire? How very Bible belt. Not in DC. There is no hell in DC. DC suffices in itself.

That’s the problem with bumper stickers and marquees: the thought must be just long enough to fit on a corner or the center of the bumper. Or a 2- or 3-line marquee at the most.

Grad school, – and religion, – and life have collectively made me uncomfortable with all bumper-length-thoughts that don’t have a couple of commas and maybe a semicolon in there. In fact a single sentence rarely suffices. Conditionals and buts and howevers are essential.

The world be far too gray for bold white print on a black background.

I remember, even in my early 20’s, being uncomfortable with the sticker “PROUD TO BE MUSLIM.” It was too tribalistic for me. PROUD just didn’t match MUSLIM. Unless you were a 13-year old in the diaspora, struggling with hostile anti-religious prejudice. But at some point, if you’re lucky, you grow up and move beyond PROUD to DEEPLY HAPPY.

Ah, the 1980s. I grew up in Pakistan, and was in elementary school when Zia came along. And then General Zia and the Islamists were saying, on every occasion, ISLAM IS THE SOLUTION. Or ISLAM IS A PANACEA FOR ALL HUMAN PROBLEMS. And our friends in the Arab world were saying AL-ISLAM HUWA AL-HAL.

Sure, it’s a solution and a blessing. But nothing is a solution to ALL human problems. Problems are essential to the human condition. Whoever claimed that people who started praying 5 times a day would get rid of the world’s economic and social problems automatically?

NIZAM-E-MUSTAFA WILL ELIMINATE THE AGE OF SORROW, they shouted. The Islamic “systems of life” will get rid of all problems. What “systems?” There are 200 interpretations of every thing. This is your relationship with God. It’s not a lab experiment. That’s what I thought the other day when I saw another church marquee: “PRAYER NUDGES THE HEART WHICH CHANGES YOUR CONDUCT.” It was such a concise, neat message that it didn’t even belong in a religious space. But a lot of religious discourse is just so sterile, so cleanly secular, so free of the presence of God, so imbued with the arrogance of human beings. Not that that particular marquee was “arrogant” in the traditional sense. But still, you get my drift. Arrogance belongs in more places than just atheism. And slogans conceal the complexities of atheism and religiosity.

Slogans are reductive. (There you are. Another slogan.)
I know people who get upset with a person who is unwilling to sign their name to a slogan. The problem is that the human condition, this universe of God’s, is far too complicated for slogans.
Also, to be honest, I just prefer not to have bumper stickers that say bad things about anyone, when I am driving while brown, with a baby on board.

I’d rather just have a sign that says “BABY ON BOARD.” Which to me, reads: “I’M TIRED AND I’VE GOT A LITTLE BABY. PLEASE BE NICE TO ME AND MY BABY. I COULD USE SOME COURTESY AND GENTLENESS.” Or it reads “PLEASE DON’T HONK AT ME FOR GOING SLOW, AND WHEN YOU CHANGE LANES, PLEASE DON’T TRY TO BE SNIPPY BY CUTTING IN A FEW INCHES IN FRONT OF ME BECAUSE THAT’S JUST DANGEROUS – NOT TO ME – TO MY BABY.” Or like, “LET ME IN WHEN I’M TRYING TO CHANGE LANES, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE–WHAT KIND OF MONSTER WOULD BE MEAN TO A MOTHER & BABY?”
Instead of that plaintive message, I have a bumper sticker that says loudly “ATHEISM IS ARROGANCE.” Okay, here in GA, not so bad. It fits right in. But I’m not taking this sticker to DC or NY.

In general, I prefer not to have Upset or Peremptory or Categorical Bumper Stickers. You know, really loud things like “READ THE QURAN!” or “SUPPORT THE TROOPS” or “BRING THE TROOPS HOME.” Or “SOMEWHERE IN TEXAS A VILLAGE IS MISSING AN IDIOT.” NOT here in GA, no way.

Here, nothing more radical than “IMAGINE WHIRLED PEAS” or “RECYCLE.” Maybe “GIVE WILDLIFE A CHANCE.”

I’ll make my statements in the way I relate to folks. I’d like to be more than a signal to honk your horn. As it is,  I often  imagine the drivers behind me getting angry. When they sidle up close behind me, I imagine they’re getting impatient with my speed. When they start overtaking me, I hear them calling me a slowpoke.

In general, I’d prefer not to add a bumper sticker to the mix.

Mo meets Mom in the deep South

I have a paternal uncle who arrived in the deep South 50-some years ago. He was the only foreigner the area. His face was splashed all over the newspapers as “Mo” the tennis star from Pakistan, who had a tennis scholarship at Clemson. Wherever he went, he was recognized: “You’re Mo, aren’t you!”

So 50 years ago in Greenville …

My uncle shows up at the young Nancy’s house, to meet her mother. (They had to wait 9 months till she was legal to marry.) He was an undergrad, a clean-cut, modern, polished Pakistani from a prominent family in Lahore. He’s short, brown, with a strong Pakistani accent.
She’s a farm girl, with 6 brothers, sitting around the house in dirty boots.

Nancy’s mother interviews young “Mo.” He’s still Mo. (Mohammad).

Mom: “So you’re not from here are you?”

Mo: No.

Mom: where are you from?

Mo: Pakistan.

Mom: Oh Palestine!

Mo: No, Pakistan.

Mom: I heard you, you said Palestine. (She remembered her Bible lessons).

Mo: I’m not from Palestine, ma’am, …  I’m from Pakistan.
Mom: I know where Palestine is, son.

Mo: Forget it. Yes, I’m from Palestine.
Mom: So what religion are you?

Mo: I’m Muslim.

Mom: What’s that? Is that like Catholic?

Mo: No.

Mom: OK. You can date her then!

Insular worlds

As I chatted with the woman working on her laptop in the café, we ended up sharing notes about our respective toddlers’ childcare. She told me the Big Daycare (the one I had failed to get Raihana into) had become a Big Warehouse, and I told her the Little Guy across the street was a great choice for me. My baby is 21 months, I said. Mine is 18 months, she said.

It was one of those moments. I was suddenly struck by the relative insignificance of the age 18 months, and the Other Child, in my own personal world. I only cared to know about her toddler because she was a toddler, and I had a toddler. I didn’t REALLY care if her toddler was a good sleeper or a good eater, and if she enjoyed the outdoors, and if she was happy at her daycare. I CARED in a certain sense, but not in the sense that I could spend hours of the night worrying about her, praying that she would be okay and happy.

This is something that often devastates me – the pull to self-and-one’s-own-child that parenthood seems to effect. In another sense, it creates a bond with other parents, so that you can weep for children you have never met. You can empathize deeply with the pain of a parent who hurries past you in the supermarket. But you occupy your own world.

As we returned to our respective tables, to work at our separate laptops, I was shaken by a sense of the entirely remote worlds that we occupy. Sitting here, in the same country, the same state, the same town, the same cozy café, we are immersed in faraway worlds. We trade information about each other’s worlds, but we don’t emerge from our own worlds. In an essential sense, we only “care” in a very relative sense.

We human beings are insulated worlds, and yet we live in the same one. We are egos revolving around the cosmos that is inside us. We are unable – except in spiritual moments of grace and/or effort – to transcend that internal cosmos, and to explore the multitudinous cosmos without. We – most of us – are unable to care about the needs, the wants, the desires, the sorrows, the deepest traumas of others. My slightest toothache is of greater import to me than is the root canal you experience. My hour of loneliness is more traumatic to me than is the dislocation of a victim of natural disaster.

As I looked outside the window, at the beautiful, gray, placid small town, with its small businesses and its little centers of activity, I was simultaneously struck by the fascination and the potential those little centers hold. If I can break the cocoon within, I might be able to explore those other little cosmoses that revolve around me.

Only one of the miracles of human life in this world is the way we little self-absorbed cosmoses ARE able to live with each other in peace, and even in connection, so often. And another miracle is those souls who ARE able to transcend their own needs, wants and tiny worlds, and replace them with another’s.

“And they give preference to others over their selves, even though poverty was their own lot. And those saved from he covetousness of their own souls, they are the ones that achieve prosperity” (Al-Hashr:9).

Watch your baggage

Since 9/11/01 heightened security concerns at airports have made it all but impossible to lock your baggage. You are told that you might lock it, but TSA will break the lock if they need to subject it to additional inspection. I generally don’t bother, and I usually put fairly blind trust in security personnel.

No more. During a return flight from Washington, DC to Atlanta, GA on December 2 of last year, just over a month ago, I put a digital camera in my suitcase. I was hurrying to the terminal, and did not want to have to carry more than a laptop in my backpack. So my handy Canon PowerShot A95, with the nice little flip out screen that I used to take endless self-portraits, went into the suitcase.

Back in Athens, as I unpacked my suitcase, I realized that the camera was missing. For a day or so, I wondered if there was some mistake, but I clearly remembered putting the camera into the suitcase just before checking it in, so it was either in the suitcase or it was not. It was not.

So watch out for what you put in your baggage.

I’ve filed a TSA claim for a stolen item. Having never done this before, I’ve no idea what to expect – a long-drawn out process with no concrete results, a quick denial, or a swift and efficient inquiry with a reimbursement of the hard-earned $300+ (made working part-time at the Shakespeare Theater) for the very first camera I owned.

One thing you should keep in mind: keep purchase evidence for expensive items you own in case you need to go looking for them. And hold on to baggage tags until you’re sure you’ve got everything you checked in!

A 36-year old local flower shop closes

Speaking of local businesses, when I hurried into Charmar Flowers this morning, I only went there to mail a job application in a hurry. The Charmar Flower & Gift Shop post office is a very convenient stop for my postal needs, and a much more pleasant experience than the large, rather sterile post office a little further away.

Winterville, city of Marigolds, got the Charmar family started. In 1971 they were asked to grow marigolds for the (sadly defunct) Winterville Marigold Festival.

When I got there, I realized that they were going out of business. Everything in the store – plants, pots, gifts, seasonal decorations, Christmas trees – was on clearance, and fast disappearing. I mailed my application, and then decided to get a large and healthy rubber plant for a good friend.

As I chatted with Jan, the spry, elderly lady at the desk, I asked her why Charmar was closing. “Because of the drought!” she replied. “We grow and water our plants, and we don’t have enough water to do it. And people can’t water their plants either, so they won’t buy the plants.”

Charmar is a friendly, cozy little store, surrounded by a what used to be a flourishing nursery of flowers and plants. I used to love to potter around the ferns, herbs, and flowers, deciding what I would buy some day (when a) I have a real house b) Raihana stops pulling the leaves off plants c) I grow that green thumb I’ve been waiting for d) and I have the extra cash. The experience of browsing and smelling plants is precious enough, and I’m grateful for Charmar Flowers to have offered me that opportunity in the middle of busy days.

Charmar will be sorely missed. It added beauty and reflection to our lives. The severe drought in the area is closing down a 36-year old business in Athens, GA.